Prairie Garden and Bird Habitat for Teaching and Research

Chicago State University is part of a wider community dedicated to helping preserve one of North America’s most imperiled ecosystems, the Tallgrass Prairie. A prairie is a landscape dominated by grasses, yet contains numerous flowering plants. In 1820, Illinois contained 22 million acres of prairie along with 14 million acres of forest, leading to the state nickname of “The Prairie State.”  However, by the early 1900’s, most prairies had been plowed for agriculture and were destroyed.  In Illinois today, there is less than 2,500 acres remaining, or 0.01% of the original prairie landscape.


Did you know that the world grasslands, including the North American prairie, are the most endangered ecosystem in the world?  In the United States and Canada, 99% of the prairie is gone.  The remaining original prairie, called remnants, exists in small pockets, and are often under a few acres in size, leading to the loss of plant, animal and insect species. 


Today, Chicago State University is helping reverse this trend by planting native prairie plants in its 3.5-acre prairie garden and bird habitat.  The over 80 native grasses, flowering plants, trees and shrubs provide the habitat needed for native butterflies (including monarchs) and birds. These plants also help the community by removing pollutants from the air and by utilizing their deep root systems, flooding is reduced because native plants absorb more water than turf grass.


History of the Prairie Garden

In 2003, Dr. Timothy Bell received an Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) grant to install the prairie garden on campus.  Dr. Potluri obtained a second IDNR grant and appointed a volunteer coordinator Ms. Kelly Borger who entered the prairie garden in the citywide competition. Since this time, through the help of volunteers, students and additional grants, a bird habitat was created, a compost station for weeds was installed, as were bat and bluebird houses.  Volunteers work to maintain the path system, remove weedy plants that do not belong in the prairie, collect seeds, grow native plants in the greenhouse and plant them in the prairie.  Students have also conducted research on the soil, plants, and insects that are using the prairie.


Grants and Partners

Illinois Department of Natural Resources

Illinois Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation (LSAMP) Urban Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics Talent Expansion Program (USTEP)


Contact Information

Department of Biological Sciences

P.  771-995-2183;